Montreal conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin on paying tribute to Ukraine amid his five Grammy nods

The Philadelphia Orchestra rehearses with its music director and conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia on October 17, 2012. Matt Rourke/AP/The Canadian Press

Yannick Nézet-Séguin can’t choose a favourite among his five Grammy nominations this year, but the recording of a benefit concert for Ukraine carries a certain importance to him as an artist.

Shortly after Russia’s invasion of the eastern European country, the Montreal conductor and pianist began working with the Metropolitan Opera of New York to shape a night of music with an array of opera stars, including Ukrainian singer Vladyslav Buialskyi who performed his country’s national anthem.

The “very special and emotional evening” recorded last March for the album A Concert For Ukraine, is among this year’s Grammy nominees for best classical compendium. Nézet-Séguin hopes the new-found attention that comes with vying for a prestigious music award will remind listeners that the war is not over.

“Arts organizations and artists in moments of crisis have always been there to provide solace, comfort and hope,” he said in an interview from New York.

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“We must stay together and strong to help those who are victims of this war, innocent victims and especially artists who suffered and are still suffering.”

READ MORE: 2023 Grammy Awards nominations: See the list of music contenders

A Concert For Ukraine, performed with the Met’s orchestra and chorus, is only one of the five Grammy nominations Nézet-Séguin picked up in four classical categories at the Grammys on Tuesday. In one instance he’s competing against himself with different projects.

Each one is notably different than the next, pushing different boundaries of classical and opera music and their often staid traditions.

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He’s in the running for best classical solo vocal album as a pianist on Voice Of Nature – The Anthropocene, a collaborative project with American soprano Renée Fleming themed around climate change.

Under best opera recording he’ll contend for two projects as conductor for the Metropolitan Opera — Matthew Aucoin’s Eurydice, a retelling of the ancient story of Orpheus and Eurydice, and a recording of Fire Shut up in my Bones, by Black composer Terence Blanchard, a jazz trumpeter known for his scores to Spike Lee films.

The latter project is significant to Nézet-Séguin, who said his “true passion is to bring classical music to as many people as possible.”

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One of his goals, he said, is “making communities feel welcome who traditionally felt they were not” in the classical music world.

“I take these Grammys as encouragement,” he said.

“That people are supporting this vision, that we have to break the boundaries of what opera is normally.”

Rounding out his five Grammy nods is one for best choral performance for conducting Verdi: Requiem, a tribute to the victims of Sept. 11 put on by the Met’s opera orchestra and chorus.

Nézet-Séguin won his first Grammy earlier this year for a recording of work by late composer Florence Price, the first Black woman to have her music performed by a major U.S. symphony orchestra in 1933.

He said the attention the Grammys brought amid an ongoing rediscovery of Price’s work showed him how meaningful the award can be in his corner of music.

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“I think that we are doing this as a service to unheard and neglected voices in the classical music canon,” he said.

“We are redressing this and I couldn’t be more proud.”

Among the other leading Canadian Grammy contenders this year is music engineer Serban Ghenea, whose five nominations include record of the year for his mixing work on Mary J. Blige’s Good Morning Gorgeous.

Toronto producer Boi-1da, born Matthew Samuels, has four nods including two in the album of the year category for projects by Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers.

The 65th Grammy Awards will be hosted by Trevor Noah and broadcast Feb. 5 on Citytv and CBS. Nézet-Séguin’s categories are set to be handed out in a pre-broadcast ceremony streamed on

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